The Best Dandruff Shampoos for Every Hair Type

Say goodbye to flakes for good.

dandruff shampoo
(Image credit: Kirstin Sinclair)

I'm not totally clear on why dandruff is still considered embarrassing or taboo, considering that it affects up to fifty percent of adults. What I am clear on is that dandruff and an itchy scalp are annoying—but I'm happy to share that they're also treatable. But before you treat it, you need to determine whether you even have dandruff in the first place. A flaky scalp can be caused by many things: Heat styling (opens in new tab), irritation caused by a product ingredient, or spending too much time in the sun. As such, if you do have a shedding scalp, first try avoiding stylers with alcohol, air-drying your hair, and slathering on a deep conditioning treatment  (opens in new tab)to quench your follicles. You'll also want to rule out psoriasis (opens in new tab), which is characterized by a lot more itching than run-of-the-mill dandruff. If after all of that, you're still experiencing flaking, you likely have the real deal. (Here's our complete guide (opens in new tab) on how to treat it.)

The cause of dandruff—or excess exfoliation of scalp skin cells—is an abundance of the fungus malassezia, a naturally occurring microspecies, explains S. Ranganathan, a doctor specializing in the condition based in Chennai, India. Happily, shampoos with the anti-fungal agents zinc pyrithione and selenium sulfide can zap the pesky malassezia almost immediately, restoring ideal scalp health. Other shampoos make use of ingredients like coal tar (!) and salicylic acid to address the exfoliation caused by the malassezia, and can also have excellent results. Like most things, you'll have to find what works best for you and your hair type.

Hannah Morrill is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. She’s an avid reader, an indifferent face-washer and a sunscreen/retinol evangelist.